To Keto or Not to Keto
The Keto Diet is everywhere this year. Social media is full of #keto, grocery stores have special Keto and Paleo sections for shoppers. Everyone has at least one friend who has miraculously lost weight on this low-carb diet when nothing else worked.
But it can seem like we’ve been here before. Miracle diets are nothing new, and low-carb has been fashionable ever since the Atkins and South Beach diets took over the 90s. So is Keto really any different, and more importantly, is it safe?
The first thing to consider is that the Keto Diet is actually a medical diet. Keto is short for ketogenic, and as a diet it was originally prescribed to treat small children with epileptic seizures. When a person does the Keto diet, they are sending their body into a state called ketosis. Instead of burning glucose for energy, the body starts to only burn fat for energy. Normally, your cells will use glucose as a power source, from sugars or starchy foods. But if there is not enough glucose coming in to meet the body’s needs, it will start to break down stored fat to harvest glucose from triglycerides.
What makes the Keto Diet different from Atkins or other low-carb diets is that instead of focusing on protein, most of the calories in Keto come from fat. Many people feel the ideal balance is 75% of daily calories from fat, 20% from protein, and only 5% from carbohydrates. While there are some healthy fats and oils allowed on the diet, like nuts, seeds, and avocados, saturated fats like coconut oil, lard, butter, and cocoa butter are also encouraged. This high saturated fat diet can increase your risk of high LDL cholesterol, ie “bad” cholesterol, and leads to higher risk for heart disease. Lean proteins can be used, but many keto people get their proteins from bacon, pork, and steak, to make up for the lack of sugar they are craving. And since most vegetables and fruit contain starches, carbs, and sugars, the amount of produce allowed on the diet is very limited.
There are risks to consider before trying a diet like this. The lack of fruit and vegetables can lead to nutritional deficiency if you’re not carefully supplementing your diet. It is also very low in fiber for the same reason, which can lead to bloating and constipation. Low carb diets can lead to a fuzzy, foggy state of mind. And if you have any pre-existing liver or kidney problems, the extra load of work this diet places on them can exacerbate those issues.
But there’s not denying that the reason the Keto Diet has become so popular is because it works. There are no long term studies about Keto weight loss yet, but in the short term it has proven wildly effective. So give it a try. But like any diet, remember that your body is a unique machine, and what works well for others may not have the same effect for you. Consult a doctor before starting, and listen to your body carefully.